Sunday, April 28, 2019

Weekly Inspiration: Helping Others Makes Us Happier

Sorry for the hiatus here on the blog - I had three exhausting trips within a two-week period and am getting ready for two more! It's just been a hectic, tiring time for me. But I am trying to keep up the blog and my work with our online support groups as much as possible...which brings me to the topic of today's Weekly Inspiration - Helping Others.

The title if this new TED Talk caught my eye: Helping Others Makes Us Happier But It Matters How We Do It. It's an interesting, fun, and inspiring  talk (and under 15 minutes long!) by social psychologist Elizabeth Dunn, who studies giving and happiness. Check it out:

So, you may be thinking that this talk isn't relevant to you. After all, few of us are able to help renovate a home for a refugee family or serve meals to the homeless. But Dunn's talk - and her research - struck a chord with me because it's something I have learned as well through the past 17 years with chronic illness, that helping others is very rewarding and increases my own happiness. I started this blog more than 12 years ago, not thinking about helping others but just needing to tell our story and hoping to find a few others out there in the wide world who could relate and understood our challenges. Of course, never in my wildest dreams did I imagine back then that there were many thousands of people just like me - and parents with sick kids like us - that I would connect with. Gradually, as we found treatments that helped to improve our lives, I also realized that I could not only connect with other patients but maybe help them, too.

The blog led to forming a local support group of parents (which has grown to about 40 families with both sick kids and sick adults) which led to forming several online support groups. In each case, I found that the ability to help others - from my couch! - not only made all my time and effort worth it but also seemed to make our own struggles with chronic illness worthwhile. Being able to use our experiences to help others gave us purpose...and yes, increased happiness. I can't describe how immensely proud and happy I was when I heard my son, at one of our local gatherings, explaining to an older man with ME/CFS, many decades his senior and who had taught at his school, all about Orthostatic Intolerance (OI) and how to treat it. It's a powerful feeling to be able to help others.

And it's not just about sharing effective treatments and new research - emotional support is just as important, if not more so. Every time you reach out to another patient, even online, you let them know there is someone out there who understands what they are going through and who cares. When you are isolated and housebound with chronic illness, that simple message of connection and compassion means so much, and as we discovered and Dunn explains, the rewards you get back from reaching out to others are immense. You benefit from that connection, too, as well as the satisfaction of helping a fellow human being. It's powerful.

So, while it is definitely worthy to donate money to ME/CFS charities (especially when you read abut the amazing research breakthroughs being made every day), as Dunn points out, you get far more benefit from actually being involved and seeing the effects of your help first-hand...and it doesn't cost a thing!

There are all kinds of discussion forums and online support groups out there for ME/CFS and related diseases. AMMES has a list and a search engine for both in-person and online groups and Phoenix Rising has a popular discussion forum anyone can join. Here are more tips for finding others locally, from my article Birds of a Feather: The Joys of Community.

There are hundreds of ME/CFS patient groups on Facebook - if you're not on Facebook and don't want to mingle with friends and family there, you can set up an account using a pseudonym - some people use their first and middle names only or create something entirely new - and use Facebook solely to participate in groups. Here are some to consider:
And you can reach out to other patients right here on this blog (and many others), just by leaving a comment - same with Twitter or other forms of social media.
The bottom line is to connect - online, in-person, however you can manage it! You will feel the rewards of reaching out to help others, and you will also benefit yourself from the friendship and camaraderie of others connecting with you.

First time our local group gathered, in 2010 - all good friends now!


Seeking Serenity and Harmony said...

Very good read. Thought provoking about how actually getting involved hands on is so important. I am just discovering that. Meaning as exhausting it is pushing myself to do things at times it is such as sense of satisfaction after.

Sue Jackson said...

Yes, I agree! Though, as I point out in the post, sometimes "hands on" can even be accomplished from your couch :)

dSavannah said...

Helping others is one of my coping strategies for dealing with ME. I can listen, and I can let others know they aren't alone. Great post.

@dSavannahCreate from dSavannahRambles

Sue Jackson said...

That's great, Savannah - I feel the same way! That kind of reaching out and connecting can be very powerful, especially for those who are so often isolated.